Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Glimmer of Hope on Baker

Scott Baker's second game of the year went about as well as his first. Slightly fewer home runs, many more hits, and the same number of runs in about the same number of innings. Last week I insinuated that I was still worried about Baker's shoulder, and that his shoulder problems may have begun early in spring training.

But how are you going to tell? I suppose we could breakdown his problems a bit, now that we have two starts to work with. Since the big problem has been home runs, using, let's take a look at the pitches he's made that have turned into souvenirs and see what we find.

Yesterday vs. Red Sox
Here are the three pitches that led to home runs yesterday:

- Kevin Youkilis, 1-2 count, 92 mph fastball, high, center
- Nick Green, 0-1 count, 90 mph fastball, middle, in
- Mike Lowell, 0-0 count, 92 mph fastball, middle, center

Well, it doesn't look like it's happening because Baker is falling behind in the count. But it does look like control is part of the issue. None of these pitches were low in the zone or on the outside half of the plate. These were pitches ripe to be pounded.

Of course, they were all fastballs, too. Were they just not fast enough? If Baker's shoulder was hurting, one might expect that his velocity would be down, and so I compared the fastball speeds in this start to those from his start in Fenway July of last year. (Why choose the Fenway start? Because I wanted to compare the same radar guns.) This year most of the fastballs were 89-91 mph. Last year most of his fastballs were 92-94 mph.

April 15th vs. Toronto
Here are the four pitches that ended up in the bleachers last week:

- Scott Rolen, 0-2 count, 89 mph fastball, middle, inside
- Aaron Hill, 0-1 count, 89 mph fastball, high, center
- Vernon Wells, 0-1, 81 mph slider, high, center
- Michael Barrett, 0-1, 91 mph fastball, high, center

OK, again it wasn't because Baker was falling behind in the count. In fact, in each case, he hadn't thrown a ball.

Also again, location was critical. The home run by Wells looks like a slider that didn't. The rest are all fastballs that were either high in the zone or middle-in.
They were also low 90s/high 80s fastballs, and so I compared those speeds to an 2008 start by Baker on April 20th.

Turns out, I didn't find the same decrease in velocity I found in Boston. Last April, in his dome start, Baker was throwing fastballs at about the same velocity. He also, by the way, had two starts in the middle of April where he gave up three home runs in each of them.

If you're looking for some hope, and I am, that's not a bad place to start. It appears that Baker's velocity last year increased as spring turned to summer. It also appears that he had some problems with home runs last April, too. This might just be the sort of thing that Baker has had to work his way through, too.


ubelmann said...

Gameday doesn't use radar guns to determine pitch speeds. They examine the video frame-by-frame from multiple angles.

His velocity seems to check out for the most part--I agree with you on that. I've heard people blame these problems on mechanics, and I tend to share Aaron's worry that his mechanics may be out of whack because he's experiencing pain somewhere.

I would be a lot less worried if he was striking out more hitters, too. My main hope rests just on this being two starts (so small sample size) and a hopefully anomalous spring training.

Jack Ungerleider said...

I'd be wary of comparing a July start to an April start. A previous ace on this team was(is) notorious for starting slow and getting hot as the weather heats up.

I was convinced it was mechanics yesterday. After reading this I think he might just need a little more time to hit stride. It will be interesting to see what we'll be saying about Baker at the All-Star break.

h. said...

You might've already read this, but it does tie into your story. Plus Posnanski is a national treasure.

thrylos98 said...

Here is Baker's career HR/9 month by month:

March/April: 2.03
May: 2.53
June: 1.03
July: 1.14
August: 0.80
September: 0.83

If this continues, the Twins would be better off, putting him in the DL with a Dontrelle Willis-like "ailment" and resurrect him come June. At least the folks at Ft. Myers might have something to look forward to :)

Seriously, this might be a sign for poor off-season conditioning... plus he battled injuries early in the season the last couple of seasons